Pinch-Breast Pintail Pair The Ward Brothers Lemuel T. (1896-1983) and Stephen (1895-1976) Crisfield, MD, c. 1932 18 1/4 in. long
“Stephen W. Ward (1895-1976) and his brother Lemuel Travis Ward (1896-1984) of Crisfield, Maryland were by far the most prominent Chesapeake Bay carvers of the twentieth century and among the greatest and most influential bird carvers of all time. The brothers worked closely together throughout their lives, combining the complementary talents of Steve’s hand carving and Lem’s brushwork to create works of extraordinary grace and realism.” -Robert Shaw “Bird Decoys of North America: Nature, History, and Art”
The Ward Brothers captured the likeness of species in their carvings as well as any decoy makers in history, and their White Mallard Gun Club rig of pinch-breast pintails are among their pinnacle works. O’Brien, in his notes, believed the birds to be “the best of the White Mallard Club rig” and “the finest pair of ‘Pinch Breast’ pintails the Ward Brothers made – a perfect matched pair.” He was so taken by them that he “chased this pair of birds for 3 years.”
The drake in this lot is closely related to a rigmate featured as the cover lot of Session IV of the "Very Rare and Important American Bird Decoys from the Collection of the late William J. Mackey, Jr. of Belford, New Jersey." That decoy would end up being the top lot of the session. Acquired by singer Andy Williams, the carving was described as "one of the finest and best preserved examples of the Ward Brothers...one of the best Ward decoys ever made."
These decoys were hunted on the club’s freshwater marshes of the Butte Sink in California’s Sacramento Valley. In describing the White Mallard birds, Ward authorities Gard and McGrath state, “The design is considered the best in Ward pintails…” and further note that “the pintail was Lem Ward’s favorite bird and he shows this preference in the painting of his pintails.” Indeed, the lively and textured stippling on the sides and back of the drake is as good as seen on any decoy.
This rare and distinctive style is associated with the 1932 model-year, and is named for Steve’s stylish carving of pronounced breasts that dramatically flare into the broad wings. The bodies are long and angular with a ridge running the length of the back to the tip of the lifted tail. This pair, with slightly turned heads and high crowns, highlights the species' long and thin necks, with the drake’s head additionally cocked to the side. Their undersides bear the horseshoe-shape weight patterns associated with the rig.
“The Ward Brothers made pintails early on in their craft and they were made in a variety of designs and forms...There is no finer work done in decoys than that which is exhibited in the 1932 Pinched Breast Pintails, or the 1936 Classic Pintails.” -Gard and McGrath, “Ward Brothers’ Decoys”
Excellent original paint with even gunning wear, a few age lines, some touch-up mostly around neck seams, and a shallow tail chip repair to hen.
Provenance: White Mallard Gun Club, Butte Sink, California Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Collection
Literature: Richard A. Bourne Co. Inc., "Rare American Decoys & Bird Carvings," Hyannis, MA, August 1986, cover and lot 39, rigmate illustrated. Richard A. Bourne Co. Inc., "Very Rare and Important American Bird Decoys From the Collection of the late William J. Mackey, Jr. of Belford, New Jersey," Hyannis, MA, Session IV, October 20, 1973, front cover and lot 283, rigmate illustrated. Ronald J. Gard and Brian J. McGrath, "Ward Brothers’ Decoys: A Collector’s Guide," Wolf City, TX, 1989, pp. 57-60, rigmates illustrated. Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 203. Robert H. Boyle, “The Art of Deception,” Audubon Magazine, May/June 2002, p. 49, no. 12, exact pair illustrated. Laurence Sheehan, "The Sporting Life," New York, NY, 1992, p. 83, exact decoy illustrated.
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